Imagined Portrait

Imagined portrait, water soluble colored pencil.

One “For the Birds”


Only realized long after this ArtCard sketch that Pixar’s “For the Birds” short was the inspiration! [click image for larger scan]

October Gargoyle


Small sketch in ColoErase, TiltShift, toned in PS.

Preserving pencil-on-paper details

Most modern illustration is digitally created due to tight advertising deadlines. For hand-drawn images however, basic digital filters (saturation, contrast, levels, colorization) can help accentuate pencil-on-paper detail.


Booty a Plenty

Technique suggestion: Prismacolor Col-Erase pencils are great for light lay-in. The convenient Pentel Brush Pen is great afterward for inking with varied line weights.


Your own Personal Tutor

hoover_charcoal_portraitOld sketchbooks are often left in a dark cabinet, helping only to sustain the local population of silverfish. But they contain endless training benefits for improving your skills and vision. Reviewing older work to note strengths and weaknesses, you can help improve future work. Reviewing this sketch from a few years ago, I see an improper neck angle, uneven texture levels (eyes lack crisp detail and focus), and some balance problems with the weight of the face. Reviewing a sketch even day or two later can give you a renewed direction.

Expanding your comfort zone

Life portrait - V.L.?

Asif Zardari after Economist Photo

Hone your skills by shifting material and size. If you typically prefer a small sketchpad, force yourself to work in sketches on larger media. Above, a model’s portrait on newsprint ~1m from corner to corner. For comparison, a small 5″ sketch from photo reference. While both use similar charcoal, working large forces you to hold the pencil differently, and can result in a looser interpretation.



What-if scenarios are great exercises for character design. This concept for “evolved chickens” was part of an Art Order Challenge. Cluck, cluck.

Tilt, Shift, Alt-DoF

TiltShiftGen is an awkwardly named tool that’s great fun to play with using art images and photos. Emulating a tilt and/or perspective shift lens, this software tool for computers and mobile devices enables dramatic effects using depth of field and selective focus.

Also, check out your local chapter of Dr Sketchy’s Anti Art School for fun, low pressure access to richly costumed life drawing events. Molly Crabapple, the organization’s founder, has several immersive art projects available for crowdsourced funding on Kickstarter.

Taking a Page from the Master


Neville Page, an industrial designer best known as Hollywood’s “blockbuster creature designer” recently gave a presentation at the Oceanside Museum of Art. Posters and stunning 3d-printed models of his character designs from Super8, Avatar, Tron, Green Lantern, Prometheus, Cloverfield, & Star Trek were on display.

  • His process begins with sketching and marker work, after which the designs are imported into Zbrush. Modo is used for photorealistic rendering (taking input from cinematographers to match the lighting, lens angle, and depth of field of a scene). His workflows may also incorporate Max, Lightwave, Maya & Alchemy).
  • As an obsessive clockwatcher—a methodology he developed while teaching at Art Institutes—he’s very focused on timing & delivery.
  • Tools for symmetrical sketching (using Zbrush or PhotoBooth) are very helpful to quickly establish novel character shapes. He re-images and merges segments of models, textures and faces using these tools, and has built these explorations into a 5000-image library of shape inspirations.
  • To avoid overused reptile and elephant skin texture maps for the creature in Super8, he used an x-ray of a stingray for its other-worldly radiating patterns.
  • Design decisions on high profile projects require more justification than, “I chose this design because it looks cool”. This typically leads to heavier input from directors (…”Well, show me several other directions”). So before he presents a design to Spielberg or Cameron, he builds a full environmental justification for the character (rationale for coloration, morphology, etc.), which makes the concept much easier to “sell.
  • When he gets “stuck” on a design, he often restarts it in clay to shift gears.
  • Modestly, he claimed that 75% of on screen”creature magic” comes from the animation (which he doesn’t do).